Fallon Refocusing United Ads On Service, Business Traveler

By Ellen Rooney Martin

CHICAGO–Fallon McElligott’s first image spot for United Airlines, breaking May 22, will take viewers from Orville and Wilbur Wright to the present and the ‘new United’ as part of the carrier’s repositioning, according to sources.

‘Rising’ is the new theme for the campaign from Minneapolis-based Fallon which was awarded the domestic assignment last October. The longtime ‘Fly the friendly skies’ theme developed by previous agency Leo Burnett in Chicago is not used, but sources said that line could be reincorporated into United advertising by the end of the year, once the ‘Rising’ theme has been established.

The airline also may not have permanently dropped George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’ used as a musical signature in Burnett’s advertising, these sources said. It, too, may be used in the future.

With the new advertising campaign, United, based in Elk Grove Village, Ill., will seek to focus its marketing on today’s full-fare business traveler by touting the wide array of improved customer services it now offers.

‘There is a perception now that United is a me-too airline and that American has taken the lead.

(United’s) image is sort of a soft, squishy airline, not a business airline, and there is a big repositioning in the new campaign,’ said a source familiar with the advertising.

Initially, United wanted an advertising theme that stressed change, and ‘A Change is in the Air’ was one line insiders said was considered, along with ‘Rising,’ which ultimately was deemed more flexible as a theme.

“Rising’ was around for a long time, went away and then came back,’ said one insider. ‘The whole (strategic and advertising) platform is customer service.’

Mike Howe, United’s director of advertising, and executives from Fallon could not be reached for comment on specifics of the new campaign. Earlier this year, Howe had said that the campaign’s break date had been pushed back to May, not because of creative differences, but to ensure that the airline could fully implement all the new services being considered.

United already has announced plans for improved in-flight meal service. Also under consideration, said sources, were programs ranging from guaranteed overhead luggage space and adding drink tickets to flight ticket packets for Mileage Plus members to ways to speed ticketing for travelers.

While the new television spots are more image-oriented and light in tone, sources said that the ‘Rising’ print executions focus more straightforwardly on United’s improved services in order to lure the business traveler.

Copyright ASM Communications, Inc. (1997) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED